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112-year-old general store, antique shop thrive

Kenny Kemp
A neighbor's dog, Zoe, greets customers at Emma Jean's General Store, a landmark in the Summers County community of Marie since 1898.
MARIE, W.Va. -- In an era when big-box stores can be found on the outskirts of virtually every town and convenience stores pop up at nearly every intersection, the rural general store is rapidly becoming a relic.But here, along the Summers-Monroe County line in the farming community of Marie, an 1898-vintage general store continues to thrive by filling a special niche -- selling antique general store accoutrements to customers from across the country, as well as basic groceries, snack foods and sodas to locals.At Emma Jean's General Store, you can buy a pack of cigarettes, a roll of toilet paper or a box of sugar and avoid a 12-mile drive to a supermarket in Hinton. It's also the place to go if you're looking to buy an early 20th-century 50-drawer penny candy display case, a watch crystal display case, authentic cracker and sugar bins, or display cases for thread spools, fountain pens and bolts of oilcloth. "We've had people here from every state, except, for some reason, South Dakota," said Jean Goldberg, the store's namesake and proprietor since 2003. "A lot of our customers are antique shop owners, or homeowners looking for certain pieces" to match their décor.Goldberg and her late husband, Martin, dealt in antiques and operated a wine and cheese shop, and later, a deli, in Bethesda, Md., when they saw an ad in an antique publication and learned that the old Marie General Store, built in 1898 and vacant for the past 20 years, was being auctioned off."We came here just to buy signs," said Golberg. "We got here on a Sunday and learned that the signs had been sold on Saturday, but the store itself was being auctioned that day."Since they were already there, the Goldbergs decided to take in the sale, and fell in love with the building, its location, and apparently, its price. They ended up buying the store, had it restored, and moved into its attached living quarters."We had to redo the oak floors, fix the roof and put on new siding," said Goldberg. Then they began the process of stocking the building, which contained nothing but shelves when they bought it. "We find some antiques in this area, but mostly they come from Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York," she said. Her son, Charles, a recently retired teacher, spends much of his time on the road, buying and selling antiques for the store.According to "History of Marie Community" written by W.T. Maddy in 1925, Marie consisted of about 40 farm families in the late 1800s. The town was far enough off the beaten path that "kerosene oil lamps were not introduced until 1870, the pine knot and tallow candle being still in use at that time. Salt was hauled from the Kanawha River and cost $9 a barrel. The flint lock rifle was still in use and the 'deer lick' was still watched by night."A single room in the home of W.A. Goode served as the community's store until 1898, when Young and Co. built the building now occupied by Emma Jean's General Store. According to Maddy's account, the store was later operated by W. A. Barger, C.N. Vass, the McNeer Brothers and E.J. Vass. A post office opened in an addition to the store building in 1900.Goldberg said she had no trouble making the transition from living in the bustling suburbs of Washington, D.C., to the life of a storekeeper along a sparsely traveled country road in the rolling farm country of southeastern West Virginia.
Being surrounded with antiques, as well as the tranquility and scenic beauty of the countryside has been a blessing. "And the people here have been very good to me," she said, "although I think they may have been a little skeptical at first."When it snows here, I'll get up and see that someone's already plowed the parking area for me -- it's that kind of place."Once a year, Goldberg hosts a barbecue as a fundraising event for community organizations or Marie-area individuals in need of costly medical procedures.
While Emma Jean's General Store does have a modest supply of convenience store-type grocery items, the overwhelming majority of its space -- including several upstairs rooms and the former post office -- is devoted to antiques.Iceboxes by Frigidaire and Alaska can be found, along with brass cash registers, soda fountain counters, shoe-shine stands, an oak phone booth from a Richmond hotel, store-sized coffee grinders from the early 1900s, nail bins, and a display rack for long-johns. There are wooden wagons, a carousal pony once used to advertise cola and a wooden baby carriage equipped with both wheels and sled runners for all-season use.Bottles and cans that once contained products stocked in stores up to a century ago are also on sale, along with the logo-bearing display racks of the companies that produced them. A wheeled wooden ladder attached to a ceiling rail provides access to items on some of the higher display shelves.The store has been mentioned in articles in AntiqueWeek magazine and is listed as a potential filming location by the West Virginia Film Office.Goldberg said she has recently been asked to provide interior and exterior photos of the store by representatives from The History Channel.The general store proprietor said she plans to eventually buy a log structure in which she will sell ice cream and food items to visitors.
Emma Jean's General Store is open seven days a week. To reach the store, drive south from Hinton on W.Va. 12 about 10 miles and turn left on Marie Road. Follow Marie Road about two miles to the store.For information, call 304-466-3900 or send email to Rick Steelhammer at or 304-348-5169. 
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